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Have you seen those viral videos of people feeding wild raccoons? The gross reality of it inspired this episode! Jessi goes through the possible diseases that raccoons can carry and how to treat you and your pets if you're exposed.

My experience with rabies exposure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC1OkB9_-yo

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Hello and welcome back to Animal Wonders!  I’m Jessi, and this is Ringo the raccoon.  Raccoons are one of my favorite animals  because there’s just something irresistible   about their cute little faces!

Oh, there feetsies, too. But you know they're totally mischievous little rascals.  Raccoons may be cute and I know a lot of people  who secretly wished they had one as a pet.  But before you try to make that dream a  reality, there’s another side to raccoons   that isn’t talked about enough, and  that’s just how dangerous they are.  I’m not talking about their sharp teeth and claws  and their willingness to use them to get their way.

I’m talking about the unseen things like  parasites, bacteria, and viruses that raccoons   can and will spread to humans and our pets. [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC] . Ringo was an orphaned raccoon and  raised by humans. And as he neared the   age where he would be able to  survive on his own in the wild,   he was deemed non-releasable due to  his fondness for human interaction.  Basically, if he were to be released  into the wild, he would likely seek out humans for food and company, which  would lead to him becoming a nuisance.  And nuisance wildlife, especially raccoons,  are often euthanized by local authorities.  So Ringo is a permanent resident at Animal  Wonders, living out his life as an ambassador   for his species, where he never has to worry  about predators or if he’ll have another meal.  The hardest parts of his life are figuring out  how to get treats out of puzzle feeders and which   blanket he’s going to pad his cozy home with.

But when Ringo first arrived at Animal Wonders,   we didn’t rush to start hands on  interaction with him. That’s because   we know all too well just how many germs and  little critters can live in and on raccoons.  I didn’t want to get sick, and I didn’t want  my staff, kids, or other animals getting sick,   so Ringo went straight into quarantine. During his quarantine time, he received a thorough   exam, testing, treatment, and follow ups to ensure  he was safe to be handled by all our staff and   also enjoy getting out on walks in the forest.

He finally passed his quarantine exit exam and... [KISS] Hi buddies... [LAUGHS] we’re all really happy that we don’t have  to worry about all the gross things raccoons   can carry and we can just focus  on how cute and mischievous this little guy is.  And now that he’s been extra adorable, I'm going to present you a partial list of gross things   raccoons can carry and spread to humans  and/or commonly kept pets like dogs and cats.  Raccoon roundworm, canine distemper,  leptospirosis, parvovirus,  mange, fleas,  and rabies. Now, we’re not just listing them off.   We’re going to talk about how gross they are! [SWOOSH] Let’s start with one of the grossest things that raccoons can carry and what I call a big nasty:  raccoon roundworms.  They look kind of like... noodles. Raccoon roundworms should not be put in  the same category as other roundworms, because raccoon roundworms are way worse for humans.  It’s all about their life cycle,  which is built around raccoons.   The adults live in their small intestine and  the eggs are shed in the raccoon’s feces.  2-4 weeks later, the eggs have  developed to become infectious.  They’re very small and stick to fur and other objects, making them easy to accidentally ingest and infect another animal.

The raccoon roundworm often doesn’t cause life threatening issues for raccoons, but it can cause serious issues for other species, like humans.  If eaten, the eggs hatch in the animal’s gut and  instead of staying and growing to adults in the   gut like they do in raccoons, the larva penetrate  the intestinal walls and make their way into other   organs like the brain, eyes, and liver. This makes the animal unable to function properly, which makes them easier prey for the raccoon. And if the raccoon eats the infected animal, the roundworms return to their  host and continue with their life cycle.  Interestingly, dogs can carry raccoon roundworms  similar to how raccoons do, which means it’s not   as scary for the dog’s wellbeing, but that  also means the dog then becomes a spreader.  If humans ingest the eggs, the larva  hatch and travel into our brain, causing   serious neurological impairments including loss  of coordination, seizures, coma, and death.  Or, they can also travel into your eyes  causing vision impairment and blindness.  Raccoon roundworm in humans is most often seen  in small children who play in the soil outside,   or those with close contact with raccoon  feces, like if they’re living in your attic.  Unfortunately, there’s no known test to  see if you’ve been infected, so if you   think you or someone you know has been exposed,  the best thing to do is to contact your doctor.  The only cure is to catch it with  deworming medication before the larva hatch, since there’s no treatment once  they’ve migrated out of the GI tract.  Fortunately, the roundworm can be treated  in dogs and raccoons using an oral deworming   medication and a strict sanitizing regimen.

The problem is that the eggs can only be killed   by extreme heat, so boiled water or fire. To sanitize you need to use bleach to break   the sticking power of the eggs and then bag  everything you can’t burn or boil because   the eggs can stay infectious for years. I think raccoon roundworms are the one   that makes me cringe the most, but  we’ve barely scratched the surface!  Next up is canine distemper.

This is a virus that attacks the respiratory,   gastrointestinal, and nervous system in dogs  and other mammal species including raccoons.  Canine Distemper is in the same group as human  measles and mumps and is highly contagious.   It’s spread through aerosol droplets  and contact with infected body fluids,   like saliva and nasal discharge. For example, sneezing, communal grooming or playing with toys, and eating or drinking from contaminated sources. There is no cure for the distemper virus, and the mortality rate is seriously high in young animals  who haven’t developed a strong immune system yet.  Treatment relies on supporting  the patient’s main systems   while their immune system fights the virus.

Thankfully, distemper isn’t a major issue   for humans, and it’s thought that if you’ve  been vaccinated against measles and mumps,   then you’re immune to distemper as well. Raccoons, however, can spread distemper   to domestic dogs through their body  fluids, like if they drink out of   the dog’s water dish that’s been left outside. And as a last note, raccoons are also susceptible   to feline distemper virus.

It’s not as common  but just as deadly to raccoons, and an infected   raccoon can spread the virus to our domestic cats. So, are you starting to look at raccoons differently yet? Because we still have more to go! [SWOOSH] Next up is leptospirosis!

This is a bacterial infection caused by the  bacteria Leptospira and spread through the   urine of infected animals. Many mammal species can  be carriers, including but not limited to: cats, dogs, cows, horses, rodents, and raccoons. The bacteria can live in water or damp soil, and it infects a host if it’s ingested or  exposed to broken skin or mucous membranes,   like your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Leptospirosis is the disease caused   by the bacteria, and the symptoms  include: fever, headache, bleeding,   muscle pain, chills, red eyes, and vomiting. Luckily, there are antibacterial medications   to treat the infection, but  it is serious and the patient   does need to be seen by a medical professional. If left untreated, the infection can lead to   kidney and liver damage and even death. [SWOOSH] Our next gross thing raccoons can carry is another virus called Parvovirus.

This virus has a dozen different strains that are species specific including canine, feline, and raccoon.  But raccoons break the species specific rule  and can carry and spread canine, feline,   and raccoon varieties, though they only become  clinically ill with raccoon and feline parvoviruses.  Parvo causes lethargy, fever,  vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite,   which leads to dehydration, damage to the  intestines and immune system, and even death.  There is no cure for parvo, and it has a  91% mortality rate without supportive care.   But with supportive care, the chances  of survival are good, at about 70-90%.  Thankfully humans can’t get parvovirus from a  different species, but the disease is serious for   our pets and the virus can stay infectious in soil  for several months or years if it’s not exposed   to extreme temperatures or direct sunlight. Parvo is spread through contact with   feces or body fluids of a sick animal and  can be easily spread on clothing and shoes.  Removing or killing the virus is difficult, so the best way to keep pets safe is to avoid an infection by getting your pets vaccinated and keeping them up to date on their boosters. [SWOOSH] We’re speeding through them now! Are you ready for another parasite?

This one is called mange. Mange is a skin disease caused  by mites that live on the host.  There are many species of mites, but sarcoptic  mange is the main one that affects mammals,   including humans, dogs, cats, and raccoons.  Raccoons can also spread demodectic mange to dogs.  The mites can be often transmitted to  a new animal by direct contact or   by sharing spaces like a sleeping den or blankets. The mites can also fall off the host and  stay alive and infectious for several weeks.  Infected animals that don’t get treatment will often become very thin and weak.

This is happening because the food that they're eating isn’t nourishing their own bodies. Instead it’s being used up by the parasites. Luckily, mange is treatable by proper oral or injectable medications and cleaning of the environment. [SWOOSH] Now, I gotta mention the very well-known parasite  that raccoons can carry and spread: fleas.  These little buggers are a small  insect, and they’re notoriously a   nuisance for mammal and bird species.

There are over 2,500 species of fleas, and some are species specific, while  others don’t mind a variety of hosts.  The most prevalent flea that raccoons  can get and spread is the cat flea.  Fleas cause skin irritations, which can lead  to hair loss and wounds caused by persistent scratching. Anemia can occur in very extreme cases  where the host can’t support their own health   due to an over abundance of the parasites. The flea life cycle isn’t contained to   living on the host, which makes it easier  for the insect to spread to other hosts.  Raccoons can pick up fleas from other raccoons,  other wildlife, or even dogs and cats.   They can then carry the fleas and spread  them throughout their natural range.  And while fleas are a nuisance,  thankfully infestations can be treated   and/or prevented by topical and oral medications,   topical soaps, and ensuring the animal’s  environment is properly cleaned.  And we’re going to end with the big one: rabies.

Rabies is a virus that has gotten a lot of   attention and a lot of people already know about  it, which is great because it’s pretty serious.  The rabies virus can be carried and spread  by most mammals, and there is no cure.  So if an animal is infected with the  virus in the wild, they don’t survive.  It’s transmitted from an infected animal through  body fluids and into an orifice of the healthy animal.  Often saliva from the infected  animal goes into a bite wound.  The infection travels to the brain and spinal  cord, and once the virus reaches the brain, they start exhibiting symptoms and they die shortly after. The symptoms include fever, headache, nausea,   vomiting, agitation, anxiety, confusion,  hyperactivity, difficulty swallowing,   excessive salivation, hallucinations,  insomnia, and partial paralysis.  Now, the good news is that we thankfully  have a tool that we can use against rabies,   an injectable vaccine, which has been tested and  proven to protect humans, dogs, cats, and ferrets.  The vaccine is best used as a preventative  measure, but can also be given post exposure   since the rabies virus has an incubation period  of about 14 days before reaching the brain.  If you want to learn more about my experience with  rabies, I made a video about it a few years ago. I’ve put a link in the description.

So rabies is a scary and serious virus, and I’m really happy that most people are educated  about it and the vaccine is easily accessible   so we can keep our loved ones safe. [SWOOSH] Well, after all of this talk about viruses, bacteria, and parasites, who wants to cuddle a raccoon? But in all seriousness, now that you know just how  gross raccoons can be, the next time you watch an   adorable video of someone interacting with a wild  raccoon, we can all collectively shiver thinking   of all the infectious diseases that can be spread  by those oh so soft and curious hands of theirs.  Raccoons are very handsy animals, meaning they  love to touch everything with their hands. And  even though they like to wash their hands in  water, since they don’t use soap to disinfect,   you can be sure they’re spreading  those germs on everything they touch.  So, the most important thing you can do to prevent  these diseases from infecting your loved ones   is to avoid feeding wild raccoons.

Feeding raccoons can happen accidentally by leaving pet food outside or having unsecured waste bins, or it can happen on purpose because you think raccoons are cute.  The problem is once raccoons find  a source of food, they often return.  So be sure you feed pets inside, bring  pets inside at night, and keep your   trash cans covered with raccoon-proof lids. That way you’re not endangering yourself,   your neighbors, or any kids and  pets that live in your neighborhood.  And the most important thing that you can do if you  live in an area where you co-habitate with raccoons   is to practice excellent hand washing  skills, because soap and hot water   is amazing at preventing infectious viruses,  bacteria, and parasites from making us sick.  And if you think your pet has been exposed  to a raccoon or one of these diseases,   contact your veterinarian for  guidance on what to do next.  And if you’ve been exposed to a wild raccoon and  are concerned about the transmission of a disease,   please contact your doctor for advice. We owe a big thank you to Ringo for being our co-host!

He is such a handsome raccoon. Oh, and if you’re wondering, he’s been   vaccinated against rabies, distemper, and parvo.  He’s also been treated for mites and fleas,   and he's gone through several rounds of dewormer. I’m really glad we were able to treat him so   he’s healthy and can’t spread any of  those gross diseases to anyone else.  Thanks for watching!

I hope you have a wonderful  rest of your day. And if you’d like to go on more   animal adventures with us, be sure to subscribe. Bye! [BOLD OUTRO MUSIC].